European dialogue platform on ethical and
solidarity-based initiatives for combating poverty and social
Seminar "Involving citizens in combating poverty and exclusion"
1-2 December 2005, Trento (Italy)
Meeting at the Third Council of Europe Summit, in Warsaw on 17 May 2005, the Council of Europe Heads of State and Government expressed their determination "to build cohesive societies by ensuring fair access to social rights, fighting exclusion and protecting vulnerable social groups".
To give substance to this assertion, the Council of Europe – in partnership with the Autonomous Province of Trento and the European networks involved in socially responsible economic activities – supports the establishment of a European dialogue platform on ethical and solidarity-based initiatives as a forum for discussion and consultation on how the citizen can be involved in combating poverty and exclusion through non-publicly-funded activities. This is especially important at a time when conventional approaches seem to be reaching their limits. If anything, disparities, poverty and social exclusion are growing, both in Europe and in the rest of the world. In the new global economy, national mechanisms for wealth redistribution and social regulation are no longer as powerful as they once were and the concept of citizenship is also moving towards more direct, individual forms of commitment, with less institutional intervention.
Combating poverty today requires approaches allowing citizenship to be exercised in the markets, with the idea that the market need not be a force for greater inequality. It can in fact be an excellent means of regulating society and making it fairer and more socially cohesive. How can we make this happen? And what part can or should the public play in achieving it? Clearly – by recognising and supporting community efforts, facilitating the spread of information and providing education – public authorities and institutions have a major role to play in enabling the citizen to play an active role.
Almost a year on from the 2004 forum, which established the platform, the Trento seminar will take dialogue on the respective roles of the authorities and the public a step further. The first goal will be to pinpoint the potential of citizens’ initiatives to "regulate the market" and what framework is needed to develop them, including legislative and institutional support and awareness-raising about the need for new habits and thinking with regard to consumerism and saving. The next step will be to identify shortcomings so that appropriate mechanisms can be devised to breathe new life into citizens’ commitments. An appraisal will also be made of new forms of poverty such as household overindebtedness and of how to combine institutional responses and citizens’ initiatives.
The Trento seminar should provide intensive dialogue between public authorities and citizen initiatives. It will be an opportunity to clarify ideas on joint responsibility for general wellbeing and socially integrating the underprivileged and on translating those ideas into practical proposals for joint activities, drawing on the experience of the many schemes that already exist. With a view to producing practical proposals, the two days have been divided into five sessions:
Introduction to the theme and presentation of the platform project together with the Internetwork of ethical and solidarity-based initiatives.
Analysis of how economic activities can generate social integration and not vulnerability and exclusion (Round Table 1) and, with specific examples, ways in which the public authorities and the public can work together to achieve this (Round Table 2).
Discussion on the mechanisms that need to be set up to involve citizens in combating social exclusion and poverty, including information activities (Workshop 1), awareness-raising (Workshop 2) and incentives (Workshop 3).
The second day will focus on two specific methods of combating social exclusion and poverty, one for types of exclusion caused by family overindebtedness and the other to assist the very poorest persons and families, who do not have access to credit. In each area, solutions and good practice will be analysed in the light of the previous day’s conclusions.
Lastly, at a fifth session, all of the results of the seminar will be brought together to produce conclusions and decide possible activities for 2006.
The Trento seminar should provide intensive dialogue between public authorities and citizen initiatives. It will be an opportunity to clarify ideas on joint responsibility for general wellbeing and socially integrating the underprivileged and on translating those ideas into practical proposals for joint activities, drawing on the experience of the many schemes that already exist.